H.H. Shri Kumarswamiji
The Agamas are of three kinds. The Shivagamas, the Shaktyagamas and the Vaishnavagamas according as they treat of the deity Shiva, Shakti and Vishnu as the object of worship. The Agamas are also called Tantra and there is practically no difference between the two names specially between the Agamas of the Shiva and Shakti schools, both of them are believed to have been delivered by Shiva to his consort-Parvati. Generally the Shaivagamas are called Agamas and Shaktyagamas are called Tantras. Yet Shaivagamas have an independent status and their origin is as old as three thousand years. The Shivagamas are 28 in number. But all of them are not available, few of them are available. Besides 28 principal Shivagamas there are many secondary Agamas which intend to explain the subject matter of the principal Agamas.
In connection with the Agamas two important questions arise - the age of the Agamas and the contents of the Agamas. As regards the first question, the age of the Agamas can well be determined from the reference made to them in various works. Harita, a writer of Smriti and Kalidas the world famous sanskrit poet refer to the Shivagamas and both of them lived in the first century of the Christian era. Various Puranas namely Skanda Purana, Sutasamhita, Brahmagita and Shiva Purana mention the Agamas. In Kurma Purana a reference is made to the fact that Shri Krishna was taught Agamic Philosophy by Upamanyu. In the Shanti Parva and Drona Parva of Mahabharata, reference has been made to the Shivagamas. In Maitrayana Upanishad Agamic literature is referred to twice. The Swetashwetopanishad is certainly an Agamic Upanishad later followed by other Agamic Upanishads like Atharva Shiras and Kaivalya. From all this foregoing account it can well be concluded that the Agamas have their origin in times almost coeval with the Aranyakas.
The Aranyakas which form part and parcel of the Vedas and the Agamas confront each other as two independent modes of thought. This fact is brought into bold belief, when we take into consideration the contents of the Vedic religion and the contents of the Agamic religion.
1. The Vedic religion consists in the offering of sattvic oblations with all rites and rituals, while the Agamic religion consists in the worship of the deity - Shiva, Shakti and Vishnu.
2. The Vedic deities were the forms of nature and the Vedic religion was a system of propitiation of those nature powers. Powers by means of sattvic oblations offered into fire regarded as the mouth of the deities; while Agamic deity was personal deity that controlled the forces of nature.
3. The oblations in the case of Vedic worship were consumed by the deities through their mouth, the fire; while the Agamic deities took only the subtle portion of the offerings exhibited to them as Prasad or consecrated food.
4. The Vedic religion was polytheistic and the different deities were invoked for different purposes because each Vedic deity has a different function in the scheme of the universe; while the Agamic religion being monotheistic only one deity was worshipped, that had all the functions of the universe in his or her hands.
5. The Vedas consist of the Mantras addressed to the different deities and recited during the performance of the sacrifices in honour of those deities; while the Agamas contain prayers consisting of various names of the deity and salutations addressed to the deity.
6. The Vedic Worship consisted of sattvic offerings made to Gods, while the Agamic worship was personal service rendered to the God, like washing, decking and feeding them.
7. The Vedic Gods being the forces of the nature had no physical representation, while the Agamic deities were represented by means of a visible emblem or image.
8. There is no trace in the hymns of the temple worship, while the worship of the idols in temples is purely Agamic. The Vedic religion is the fire cult while Agamic religion is the deitic cult.
9. The Vedas kept the door of religion restricted to sattvic people while the Agamas kept the door of religion open to all without any distinction.
10. The Agamas treat the Yoga Philosophy and Yogic practices which are all together also in the Samhitas or Vedic hymns.
The contents of the Shivagamas are divided into four parts namely Charya, Kriya, Yoga and Jnana. The Charya and Kriya parts describe the names of worship of Shiva with love and adoration but as the discipline of love or Shakti has to be supplemented by some psychological discipline in the form of yoga practice, the third part of every Agama deals with yoga. The fourth part of the Agama deals with jnana but jnana in the sense of exposition of the philosophical principles underlying the Agama teaching. The Charyapada represents a Marga, the path of the servant following the master. The servantship is the discipline of the Charya-pada. It consists in the search of God in the world and has for its aim the objective worship of a material idol. The singing of the glories of God the extension of the honour and hospitality to the servants of God constitute the chief marks of the first part. The Kriyapada represents the Satputramarg the path of son serving the will of his father. It is the higher step of worshipping God under the mental image. In this stage the rites are indicative of purification of the mind and heart. The worshipper behaves towards God as a son does towards his father with a combination of purity and piety. Yogapada represents Sahamarga which indicates the spirit of an associate. Here the worshipper behaves towards God as an associate. The whole spirit of the worshipper is being affiliated to God through the practice of Yoga or meditation. Jnanapada represents Sanmarga which means the attainment of Sayujya or atonement with God. In this condition the subject and the object become indistinguishable and the worshipper becomes possessed of Samadhi or trance. In the Sahamarga the worshipper starts with the idea of being similar to God and attains similarity which by the Sanmarga expands into Sayujya or atonement.
The main three Agamic Schools , Shiva, Shakti and Vaishnava maintain three ultimate realities, namely
1. A supreme being with male or female aspect predominant.
2. The group of individual souls.
3. The objective universe as real.
These three realities are given different names in the three different schools.
All the three schools agree in opposing and demolishing the Mayawada or the illusion theory of the Vedanta. Thus says Pauskaragama: "If the world is an illusion of the conscious being the effected world will be a hollow reality. How can the world which is established to be really existing by all methods of proofs be a false transaction of consciousness? "
The Agamas do not regard the world as a false show. The universe is real because, as there is absolutely no difference between Brahma and the universe, just as there is no difference between a pot and clay of which it is made, the reality of the universe necessarily follows from the reality of Brahma. Intense devotion or sincere Bhakti to deity forms another common feature of the three Agamic Schools. The movement of Agamic devotion gave rise to the art of temple building and the making of the images which in India , in south India especially has reached a higher order of perfection. It also gave rise to devotional lyric poetry full of poetic imagery. So also music, singing and dancing developed fast under the influence of the Agamas.
Dr. Radhakrishna in his "Outlines of Indian Philosophy" has observed thus:
"This living Hindu religion of today from Cape Comorin to the remotest corners of Tibet is essentially Tantric. Even the genuine Vedic rites that are preserved and are supposed to be derived straight from the Vedas, namely the Sandhya, have been modified by the addition of Tantric practice."
The two streams of thought, the Agamic and the Vedic gradually gravitated towards each other. After running side by side for long time they acted and reacted on each other and modified each other's practice in religion. Attempts were later made to reconcile the differences between them and to establish the unity of thought in Hinduism.
Historically considered Virashaivism is a fine and full blown flower of Shaivism. For Shaivism as well as for Virashaivism the 28 Shivagamas are the scriptures. But Virashaivism considers the latter two parts of the Agamas as scriptural authority. Since the end portion of the Agamas is regarded as authority Virashaivism is known as Agamanta. Shiva is the worshipping deity for Shaivism and Virashaivism in the form of Linga. The Shaivas worship Shivalinga in the temples while the Virashaivas wear the miniature form of Shivalinga known as Ishtalinga. The Linga worn on the body is made of light grey slate stone and to be kept intact all through the wearer's life, it is coated all over with the fine durable black paste prepared out of certain ingredient. The coating is called Kanti or covering. The Linga is worshipped by placing it on the palm of the left hand. This is the subjective mode of worship in which the devotee and the divine are facing each other. Linga is three fold; Bhavalinga, Linga the ideal corresponding to the causal body of the devotee, Pranalinga, Linga the vital corresponds to the subtle body of the devotee. Ishtalinga, Linga the gross or the physical corresponds to the gross body of the devotee. The devotee starts with the worship of Istalinga and reaches by stages the Pranalinga and the Bhavalinga with the idea of his being a part and parcel of God through all the stages when he reaches atonement with God or Shiva.
Anatomy speaks of the plexuses in the human body. These plexuses which are otherwise known as Chakras, are the network of the autonomic nervous system. The Plexuses are said to have petals as the lotus have. Physiologically the petals are no other than the branches of nerves shooting from the ganglia in different directions for the regular functioning of the different parts of the body. Prana runs through these branches and activates the different parts of the body in the particular locality in which a plexus is situated.
The lowermost Chakra is the basis plexus called Muladhara. It has four branches or petals and the shape of a triangle. The second Chakra is Swadisthana which is situated in the pelvic region and it has six petals. The third Chakra is the Solar plexus with ten petals and its location is in the region of the navel. The fourth Chakra is the Anahata which has twelve petals and is located in the region of the heart. The fifth Chakra is Vishuddhi situated in the region of the throat and it has sixteen petals. The sixth is Ajna Chakra which has two petals and is situated between eyebrows. This is called plexus of command.
In the process of Yoga the centres have a fixed physiological use and a general function. The Muladhara governs the physical down to the subconscient. The abdominal centre the Swadisthana governs the lower vital. According to Virashaivism these two Chakras represent the domain of Ishtalinga and are respectively occupied by the sub-forms of Istalinga -- Acharlinga in the Muladhara and Gurulinga in Swadisthana. This is the place of Tyaganga. The navel centre or Manipura governs the larger vital and the heart centre or Anahata governs the emotional being. These two form the vital or the intermediate plane. According to Virashaivism this is the plane of Bhoganga and is the domain of Pranalinga or the vital because the vital force of consciousness functions here. The throat centre or Vishuddhi governs the expressive mind, here consciousness assume concrete form of the sound. The centre between the two eyebrows governs the will. According to Virashaivism this is the plane of Bhavalinga - the higher intellectual plane.
The human body is identified with Tyaganga with Ishtalinga working behind it. The autonomous nervous system with Bhoganga with Pranalinga working behind it; the central nervous system or cerebrum with Yoganga with Bhavalinga working behind it. The bodily mechanism is Tyaganga because it is to be directed towards the higher and in performance to the demands of matter. Here the Istalinga aids the soul when it becomes conscious of the higher end. Full faith in the divinity in the spirit of submission is the means to that end. The faith in relation to Shakti or the devotee is Shraddha which develops into Nishtha or singleness of purpose of Mahesha. In the first stage Acharlinga, the practical and in the second stage Gurulinga, the perceptive are aroused for giving the soul and an insight into the spiritual truth. This is the first process of sublimation in the upward march of the soul. Here the soul is purified and divested of the thoughts of the worldly life. Acharlinga and Gurulinga are connected with Adhara Chakra and Swadisthana Chakra with the corresponding awakening of the powers in them.
The intermediate plane is the plane of Bhoganga, the soul in the stage of enjoyment. This is the psychic plane, the plane of Pranalinga. In this stage the soul has the co-operation of Pranalinga, for his further development. Here the soul has the enjoyment of material world in so far as it is necessary for the substance of the body which is the basis of all life - temporal or spiritual. In this plane the truth that material enjoyment and spiritual experience are in no way inconsistent but are mutually helpful, is demonstrated. The enjoyment of the soul is in company with Pranalinga so that everything that the soul takes or enjoys is in the first instance dedicated to Linga and is then taken as Prasad or consecrated food. Here conscious aspiration is the means to the objective of atonement of the divinity, with its two sub-division of Avadhana, the undivided attention fixed on the divinity in contemplation and Anubhava or partial experience of the divine life. The two forms of Shakti invoke the aid of two modifications of Pranalinga - Shivalinga the gracious and Charalinga the itinerant. Prasadi is the third modification of the soul which strives with undivided attention to earn the grace of God in his aspect as Shivalinga. So also the Pranalinga - the fourth modification of the soul attentively meditates on divinity and attains the stage of partial experience of the divine life. Here the form of Shakti is called Anubhava Bhakti, the experiential stage of the spiritual life. The two modifications of Pranalinga, Shivalinga and Charalinga are connected with Manipura Chakra and Anahata Chakra with a corresponding sublimation of their powers.
The third plane is the plane of the highest intelligence. This is the plane of Yoganga to which the soul rises up gradually step by step. Here the soul is in the stage of regaining his oneness with the universal consciousness. Here he secures the help and co-operation of Bhavalinga, the ideal. Yoganga in its two modifications, Sharana and Aikya strives for regaining his essential oneness with the divinity. The two forms of Bhakti, Anandbhakti and Samarasabhakti invoke the aid of the two forms of Bhavalinga - Prasadlinga, the peaceful and Mahalinga, the great. Prasadalinga and Mahalinga are connected with Vishuddhi Chakra and Ajna Chakra with a corresponding awakening of powers in them.
Article from book: Unto The First, by H. H. Shri Kumarswamiji
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